Three companies honoured at Ireland-France business awards

Premium given to digital innovation

Pictured at the 2013 Ireland France Business Awards held in Paris are Gilliane Quinn de Schonen, President of NetworkIrlande, Erwan Corre, CEO of Smartbox, Gus O’Brien, Co-founder of Cork Plastics, Cathal O’Boyle, Managing Director, Neopost Ireland and Gerry Halpenny, President of the IFCC.

Pictured at the 2013 Ireland France Business Awards held in Paris are Gilliane Quinn de Schonen, President of NetworkIrlande, Erwan Corre, CEO of Smartbox, Gus O’Brien, Co-founder of Cork Plastics, Cathal O’Boyle, Managing Director, Neopost Ireland and Gerry Halpenny, President of the IFCC.

 

Lara Marlowe in Paris

Smartbox, Cork Plastics and Neopost Ireland were honoured at the annual Ireland France business awards gala dinner attended by 150 French and Irish business people in Paris last night (Thurs).

Trade between France and Ireland grew to over €15 billion this year, said Gilliane Quinn de Schonen, the president of NetworkIrlande, the Paris equivalent of the Ireland France Chamber of Commerce in Dublin. She emphasised the “enormous potential in the digital economy” and noted that Taoiseach Enda Kenny discussed the importance of digital technology at last week’s summit on youth employment in Europe.

Smartbox, which won the special award for digital innovation, was founded in Belgium in 2000 and employs 800 people in 13 countries, of whom 110 are based in Dublin. It pioneered the concept of digital gift boxes with vouchers for gifts including stays in hotels and spas and adventures such as race car driving and para-gliding. Smartbox remains the leader in Europe, with almost 50 per cent of the market.

The award winners received a silver platter, and a bottle of seven-year-old Paddy from Pernod Ricard. “This is recognition, and an encouragement of our strategy,” said Erwan Corre, the young Breton who heads Smartbox in Ireland. Their strategy consists of shifting from physical sales in shops to online sales, which continue to grow. Turnover in 15,000 European points of sale is static.

All Smartbox’s IT and supply chain operations are now run out of Ireland, Mr Corre said. Dublin was attractive not only for tax reasons: “Google and Facebook are a magnet for IT specialists, so we find employees with both IT and language skills.” Smartbox’s employees in Ireland come from 22 countries.

IDA Ireland, whose Europe director Anne-Marie Tierney-Le Roux attended last night’s (Thurs) dinner, helped Smartbox recruit and find offices in Dublin, and recently provided a €500,000 subsidy for a three-year training programme.

Cork Plastics, a producer of rain gutters, PVC roof lining and other plastics for building construction, received the award for best Irish company in France. Its global turnover last year was €40 million. Director Gus O’Brien said Enterprise Ireland, whose France director Sinead Lonergan was present, “helped us enormously, no end” by putting them in contact with potential French clients.

The French market is already populated with suppliers. “It’s difficult to break into any market right now, but there’s still demand,” Mr O’Brien said. “We have the quality required and we’re competitive.”

Seward Lynch, also a director for Cork Plastics, said the company has about 20 active customers in France, including roofing companies, distributors and builders’ providers. France has a reputation for bureaucracy and high taxes, but Mr Lynch said Ireland was similar. The biggest difficulty in France was logistics, and the high cost of transporting products to clients in distant corners of such a big country.

Neopost Ireland won the award for best French company in Ireland. Neopost was by far the biggest company honoured, with 6,000 employees worldwide and €1.1 bn in annual revenue in 26 countries. It has been present in Ireland for 30 years through distributors, but has sold its franking machines, mail folders and inserters directly since 2004. Neopost collects € 50 millionn in revenue annually for An Post.

Cathal O’Boyle, managing director of Neopost Ireland, believed it won because it invested in R & D, for example, designing a machine to collect mortgage duty and transfer payment digitally to the Irish court services. It has also expanded into the print finishing business. As mail volume decreases, it concentrates more on shipping, tracking and tracing parcels.

AMCS Group, Castlebrook Furniture & Design, AXA Life Invest and Lacroix Sofrel were runners-up for the awards.